State probes worker abuse of the disabled

More than 10 percent of the 130 state workers facing the loss of their jobs for allegations of abuse

More than 10 percent of the 130 state workers facing the loss of their jobs for allegations of abuse against people with disabilities are employed by agencies within the Capital Region, according to the state Office for People With Developmental Disabilities.

The 19 workers are on unpaid leave while their cases undergo automatic arbitration, and some could return to work based on the arbitrator’s ruling, according to the disability office’s spokesman, Travis Proulx. Some may also face criminal charges in connection with the alleged abuse, he said.

Proulx said 14 were brought up on internal charges involving physical and psychological abuse and neglect, and five face criminal convictions unrelated to abuse allegations.

The 19 workers were employed in Civil Service jobs at various state-run facilities in Albany, Fulton, Montgomery, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Rensselaer, Warren and Washington counties, according to Proulx. He did not provide specific places of employment.

Proulx said the 130 figure is nearly double the average monthly rate of people suspended without pay since a change in leadership at the agency. Prior to March, an average of 69 people within the agency were suspended without pay awaiting termination. The figure is contained in a six-month progress report of efforts by the state to correct abuses in its system. Statewide, the state employs 23,000 people in a system that cares for more than 100,000 people with disabilities.

Proulx said the 130 figure also represents the state’s new approach to dealing with allegations of abuse. “In 60 percent of cases of abuse in the past, the agency did not seek termination but sought a lesser penalty. Now we seek termination,” he said.

In addition to this step, the state has strengthened its investigative process to improve its ability to fire employees charged with abuse, Proulx said. The agency now has 51 people trained and certified to investigate allegations of abuse.

The state has also stepped up reports of physical abuse of clients to law enforcement. The percentage has gone from 17 percent prior to 2009 to 93 percent as of September.

The changes follow an expose by The New York Times earlier this year which found widespread abuse within the system. Following the expose, Gov. Andrew Cuomo forced the resignation of the commissioner of the agency, which was formerly called the state Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

Categories: Schenectady County

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